Selva Discusses Threats, Capabilities During Confirmation Hearing

Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are the nations most able to threaten the United States, according to the president’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In his confirmation hearing today, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while terror groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have the desire and capability to attack the American homeland, they do not present an existential threat to the United States.

If confirmed by the Senate, Selva, who is currently the commander of U.S. Transportation Command, will succeed Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. to become the tenth vice chairman.

Types, Degrees of Threat

Selva hastened to add that these nations do not present a clear and present danger today. “In that order, you see the countries that are peer and near-peer competitors who are developing conventional and nuclear weapons that match our own,” he said. “You see opaque governments that have ideologies that we don’t agree with, and you see the broad base of terrorist threats that might threaten our interests abroad, our interests abroad and our homeland.”

Russia is the preeminent threat, the general said, because that nation possesses conventional and nuclear capabilities, should Russian leaders choose to use them.

Selva said the threat posed by ISIL and similar extremist organizations is one that must be dealt with, but it's regional in nature. “ISIL does not possess the tools or the capabilities to threaten the existence of the United States as we know it,” he said.

The United States is also increasingly at risk in space and across the networks of cyberspace, he added.

“Effectively confronting these threats, as diverse as they are, requires a whole-of-government approach,” Selva said. “Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Cost Guardsmen truly are the heart and soul of our competitive advantage, and they are far more effective when the full weight of our country’s power is working in unison.”

Budget Concerns

Selva noted another direct threat to the U.S. military: sequestration -- spending caps that will take effect Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action to change budget law.

“We see the effects of sequestration and the potential declines in the defense budget affecting readiness," he said. "They affect our ability to train those young men and women to do their work. They affect our ability to maintain and reset the equipment that they have been using for the better part of the last decade and a half in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they affect our ability to retain the best of those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines."

Selva called overseas contingency operations funding -– money appropriated outside the DoD base budget -– “a one-year incremental fix to a long-term problem.”

The general said he is concerned about Iran and its policy of sponsoring terrorism.

With the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program finalized, “the sequential lifting of sanctions will give Iran the access to more economic assets with which to sponsor state terrorism should they chose to do so,” he said. “I think we need to be alert to that possibility, and, as the military, we have an obligation to provide the president with a full range of options to respond.”

Finally, Selva stressed the importance of military-to-military ties. “I think it is very important that our senior military leaders maintain an open dialogue with the senior military leaders of competitor nations so that we can minimize the chance of miscalculation or missteps,” he said.

“In any military operation anywhere in the world -- that goes for Russia and China, specifically, and for any other country that might wish us ill -- we need to open those dialogues to make sure that we don’t miscalculate,” the general said.